Strategies for flourishing on the social internet
For many of us, the technological advancements of the past decade have engendered a seismic shift in the way we live our daily lives.
We are inhabitants of a digital world; technology is now so seamlessly woven into our everyday experience that we could say that we live ‘hybrid’ lives – switching effortlessly between online and offline realities. This kind of hybrid living calls for consistency in the way we follow Jesus – our online and offline lives must match up. As disciples, we are called to reflect the light of Christ in the whole of our lives – this is what we mean when we talk about being Lights for Christ.
This blog series is for all who are living hybrid lives.
Two years ago, during the height of the pandemic, it was easy to recognise what a God-send social media was. We were able to stay connected, look out for one another and organise much needed practical care at a time when the typical means of doing so were restricted.
Despite the benefits, our social media feeds can easily become toxic cauldrons bubbling over with anger, hate and self-importance. Many of my friends over recent months have had to actively manage their use of social media. For a variety of reasons that tend to be about the harm that social media can cause to our mental health, many people find that taking regular breaks can be a helpful practice to adopt.
For all the negative aspects of our society that social media accentuates, there is still obvious value in the use of technology to connect meaningfully with one another. Perhaps we need a better strategy than simply stepping away. Perhaps the emphasis could move from ‘necessary disengagement’ to ‘better modes of engagement’. What if instead of disengaging from social media like a much-needed weekend break to your favourite sleepy coastal town – to get away from the noise – our mode of engagement was more like a planned visit to the bustling heart of a Mediterranean capital city – a limited opportunity for new experiences?
What if being a Light for Christ Online means we gladly visit and value social media but are at home elsewhere?
Here are three strategies for our flourishing as Light for Christ on the social internet:
When visiting a bustling city plan your time
Like the road noise from a nearby dual carriageway, social media can be a constant distraction in the background of our time, never quite allowing us to fully relax. Our engagement with social media as Lights for Christ may well be better for us if we plan our time on platforms. For instance, I have a friend who downloads the Twitter app early every Tuesday morning. Then late Tuesday evening, after a day of on-going tweeting, quote-tweeting and general engagement, he deletes the app. The following Tuesday he repeats the exercise. Like a regular visit to an otherwise overwhelming metropolis, he plans his time and has found that he looks forward to ‘Twitter Tuesdays’ and is far more productive in other area over the rest of the week. Perhaps that wouldn’t work for us all in the exact same way, but how can you plan your time on social media so that the constant buzz of possible interactions subsides when you’d like a rest and intensifies when you’d like to engage?
When visiting a bustling city be present
When I visited New York City I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the place. Suddenly all of the things that I’d heard and seen of New York came flooding back to me and I wanted to do them all – Immediately! Our engagement with social media as Lights for Christ may well be better for us, if we can limit our attention and instead of endlessly scrolling trying to take in as much as we can, we give ourselves to be present with – and limited by – the things that engage us most helpfully. For instance, on Facebook, users can use the ‘Save Post’ function to bookmark the selected post. That creates the opportunity to return directly to that post at a later time or take a some time to reconsider a knee-jerk comment. The function even allows the user to create a collection of similar posts. What if you spent the first ten minutes of your planned visit to social media looking for a couple of posts that interest you – save them – and then spend the rest of your planned visit engaging with those posts. Rereading, researching, jotting down thoughts, commenting, sharing your own thoughts on the subject, inviting engagement through open-ended questions, praying and so on?
When visiting a bustling city don’t forget your way home
Home isn’t necessarily a physical dwelling. Being ‘at home’ may also include a sense of rest, peace, reconciliation and communal flourishing. To go out into a world that seeks to shape us and engage meaningfully with it without become less than we are, requires that we have a strong sense of ‘home’ – knowing who we are, where we belong and why we are here. Young children seem to understand this intuitively. When things get too much for my daughters they’ll repeat the common cry, ‘’I want to go home’’ or ‘’I want my mummy’’. Their simple recognition of their fundamental needs ought to be instructive to us. We need the humility to recognise our fundamental need of being ‘at home’, especially as we explore the shifting landscapes of social media.
‘…to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.’John 1:12-13
Our engagement with social media as Lights for Christ may well be better for us, if we remember exactly who we are. Online and offline, followers of Jesus are children of the living God. At home in the perfect love of our heavenly Father. Our social media engagements ought not be the primary and most powerful force of formation in our lives. No amount of online recognition can compare to the joyful recognition of the One who is the source of all life and light.
Why not consider creating a personal rule of life that includes spending a timed 90 seconds in prayer before and after every visit to social media? Why not shape that prayer as a request for a deeper, more tangible grasp of your being ‘born of God’?
This Lights for Christ Online blog series has been co-produced by Hannah Sandoval, the Diocese of Sheffield Lights for Christ Enabler, and Elliot Hyliger, the Diocese of Sheffield Digital Mission Development Advisor. We’d love to hear from you so do share your thoughts in the comments below or get in touch directly.